U.S. stock index futures shaved some losses Thursday following a better-than-expected jobless claims report.
Weekly claims for unemployment benefits fell by 6,000 in the last week, to a seasonally adjusted 357,000, according to the Labor Department. Economists polled by Reuters had expected a gain of 1,000.
And the number of planned layoffs at U.S. firms fell 26.8 percent in March to 37,880 jobs, from 51,728 in February, according to a report from consultants Challenger, Gray & Christmas, hitting its lowest level in 10 months.
The employment reports come ahead of the government's key March jobs report, due out on Good Friday, even as the stock market is closed.
Most retailers, including Target , Macy's , Limited and Gap posted solid gains in March, helped by the warm weather that prompted customers to purchase seasonal goods sooner than usual.
Among earnings, Constellation Brands slumped even after the wine company
Bed Bath & Beyond rallied after the retailer posted results that topped expectations.
European shares were down Thursday, with investors remaining skeptical about Europe’s prospects of avoiding another recession, and sentiment further dampened by Spain’s poorly supported bond sale on Wednesday. Tepid demand for France's 8.4 billion euro bond auction on Thursday exerted further downward pressure.
The Bank of England released its latest interest rate decision at 7 a.m. New York time on Thursday, holding base rates at record low 0.5 percent.
There was good news from China early on Thursday, with HSBC’s Purchasing Managers Index showing a steady increase in service sector activity in March, and business confidence at an 11-month high.
—Follow JeeYeon Park on Twitter: @JeeYeonParkCNBC—
Coming Up This Week:
THURSDAY: Fed's Bullard speaks, Yahoo board members' 1st day
FRIDAY: Good Friday—markets closed/banks open, non-farm payrolls, consumer credit
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